The acceleration of plans to refurbish GW’s largest freshman residence hall will make the building more community-friendly and modernize outdated rooms and furniture, students said.
Officials announced last week that they are speeding up plans to renovate Thurston Hall, and plan to open the revamped building to students as early as 2021 but no later than fall 2022. Students said renovating Thurston – which houses more than 1,000 students – could resolve long-standing problems like mold and water issues and reinvent the notorious building as a place where students want to socialize.
The interior overhaul of the building will include new community spaces and modernized rooms and amenities, officials said last week. Administrators plan to hire an architecture firm to oversee the project by the end of the semester and present plans to the Board of Trustees in May.
The expedited timeline will also put a pause on University plans to construct a new residence hall on 20th and H streets by fall 2022.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said officials needed to halt planning for the new residence hall to “fully focus” on Thurston renovations.
“This renovation project supports President [Thomas] LeBlanc’s strategic initiative to improve the student experience by upgrading existing residence halls to include more common and community space within the halls and more study spaces,” Csellar said in an email.
Csellar declined to say why the University decided to accelerate plans or provide a timeline for the renovations. She declined to say the original target date for Thurston Hall renovations and how much money will be allocated for the project.
She declined to say how the University will house freshmen during the renovations and whether any traditionally upperclassman buildings will house first-year students over the next few years. Csellar declined to say for how long plans for the new residence hall will be delayed, saying the University will have more information about renovations and housing for students in the coming months since GW is still in the “early planning phase.”
“We do not have any more details at this time and will continue to provide more information to our community about the renovation work, including housing for students, design and timeline as it becomes available in the coming months,” Csellar said.
She said the University has sent a “targeted invitation” to architecture firms to participate in a competition to design Thurston’s interior. Csellar declined to say how many proposals have been received so far.
Students have asked for renovations to the residence hall for years but ramped up calls to upgrade the 90-year-old building in 2015, one year after the University agreed to renovate residence halls every seven years. Thurston rooms were equipped with new furniture in 2016, and officials hired a maintenance company to combat mold in the building the next year.
Officials began working with outside consultants to construct a plan for renovations in 2017.
Residence Hall Association President SJ Matthews said officials have not yet reached out to her to discuss renovations, but she hopes the RHA will be involved in the process and able to provide input on the design once an architect is chosen. She said students have told her they want more laundry facilities, common spaces, natural light and bigger rooms.
Matthews said the project “gets so much better” with the incorporation of student voices, and she hopes that more common space in Thurston will make the residence hall a place where students are “actually excited” to live and socialize.
“Common space is the way to build community on this campus,” she said. “When you have a place where students can just go be completely unapologetically themselves, it makes our campus culture so much better.”
Regan Jackson, the president of Thurston Hall, declined to comment, deferring to Matthews.
In interviews, more than 15 students living in Thurston said they hope repairs will resolve issues of mold in the building and add more community spaces to make the hall more friendly.
Alec Vida, an international affairs major living on the fourth floor, said the renovations should include the construction of multiple kitchens throughout the building. He said Thurston, which currently has one kitchen in the basement, “doesn’t really support” students who cook often to save money or accommodate dietary restrictions.
“We’re kind of just stuck the way it is, and they just say this is just the freshman experience,” Vida said. “You’ll get it when you’re a sophomore or junior or senior, but freshmen are just unable to do anything about cooking.”
Giuliana Salomone, a resident of the second floor, said Thurston’s main community space in the basement serves as a study area and place for people to socialize, which can be “loud” for those trying to work. She said having multiple community spaces that are semi-quiet would be “really helpful” in catering to students both studying and socializing.
“It’s sometimes a hard place to get work done and feel super at home, so I think that the sooner you can make an incoming freshman class have a more pleasant experience, the better,” Salomone said.
Grace Hromin, who lives on the ninth floor, said increased community space will incentivize more students to socialize in Thurston, especially after all freshmen were given tap access to first-year residence halls at the end of last semester.
“The whole atmosphere of Thurston is very positive and social so I feel like renovations will help boost that in a way,” Hromin said.
Jamie Hofer, a computer engineering major living on the ninth floor, said he supports the University’s choice to “just keep the face” of Thurston and “start over” with the building’s interior, referencing issues with splintered floors, irregular water pressure in the showers and mold in the rooms.
“They should build a new dorm and just completely start over with this because it wasn’t really meant to be up this long,” he said.
Mae McGrath, a political science major living in a Thurston quad on the fourth floor, said one of her “biggest concerns” is that her room is “definitely not big enough” for more than three people. She said she is unsure whether the renovations will resolve the matter but said the University should consider room sizes when making upgrades.
“It’s not healthy, and it doesn’t really do anything for privacy to have more people than can physically fit in a room living in a room,” McGrath said.
Jared Gans, James Levinson, Lizzie Mintz and Kateryna Stepanenko contributed reporting.